What Should I Do When My Presentation Time Is Cut Short?

By: Dale Ludwig, President, Turpin Communication
October 22, 2013

Every business presenter has faced or will face this situation. You may have been told for weeks that you have 45 minutes to pitch your idea to leadership, and you find out the morning of the presentation that you will have 30 minutes, maybe even less. This could be because something unexpected came up and the meeting is running long, or maybe an important member of your audience is leaving early but still wants to hear from you.

When this challenge comes up in our presentation workshops, someone inevitably responds with, "Should we just talk faster?" The answer to that question is, of course, no. Speaking faster might help you get the words out, but they probably won't be understood.

The answer comes down to flexibility. Business presenters need to be able to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely, no matter how much time they have. When that time is cut short, you have two options.

  • Do they need or want to hear a little about everything? Or,
  • Do they need or want to hear a full explanation of a few things?

If you go with the first option, explain to your audience that you‘re going to go through an abbreviated version of each point. Then stick to your promise to be brief.

If your audience needs or wants to hear a full explanation of a few of things, tell them which agenda items you're going to focus on and why. In some situations, it's appropriate to ask the audience what they would like to focus on. After you deliver your agenda, you could say, "I know time is precious today, so which of these four points would you like me to focus on?"

Successfully managing last minute adjustments begins during preparation. So in every situation—regardless of whether your time is actually cut short—keep these ideas in mind.

  • Create meaningful slide titles. The title of each slide should communicate the point the slide makes. "Sporadic Sales Growth" communicates more than "Third Quarter Sales." During delivery, use the slide title to launch the conversation you want to have.
  • Think about the shorter and longer explanation for each point you're making. This will improve your flexibility by helping you get comfortable with different options.
  • Think about how you would make your point to people with different perspectives or levels of knowledge. This will help you look at the information you're delivering through fresh eyes and focus on what's important for various audience members.
  • Accept the idea that to be concise you need to stop talking about something before you want to. This may sound silly, but it is absolutely true. Letting yourself talk until you're satisfied usually doesn't make the explanation any better. It just makes it longer. So when you're wondering if you should keep talking or move on to the next point, move on.
  • Finally, when you're asked a question, deliver the short answer first. If you decide to say more, make sure it's worth the time it takes to do so.

Delivering a shorter-than-expected presentation can be frustrating, but a flexible presenter, focused on what the audience needs and wants to hear, can succeed comfortably.